Gabriel Verzo-Ibis

If Elsa became the inspiration of a few young women to venture outside their comfort zone, there have also been women scientists who chose to venture into the unknown even before the movie Frozen.


Nominally a male-dominated field, science can be a journey of its own, and for women, is also a thrilling ride that they willfully explore with its many unknowns.

Today, the 11th of February, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science (IDWGS).

An annual observance since 2015, IDWGS is implemented by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).

Women have played a remarkable role in science and technology, not only in the Philippines, but globally, yet questions are still asked about how deep this role has become.


“Some people believe that science is a man's job, but science has no gender.”

This is what Malagasy astrophysicist Zara Randriamanakoto had to say about the current status of gender equality in science and technology (S&T). Randriamanakoto cofounded Ikala STEM, which is a women-led science community in her home country of Madagascar.

Globally, women account for only 34% of the S&T workforce, according to the American Association of University Women or AAUW, asserting a male-dominated system. In the Philippines, this comes to a closer 48.1% of the workforce, closing the male-female gap to only 2%. This may be attributed to an increase in the interest of women in the S&T field, which was revealed in the Department of Science and Technology – Science Education Institute (DOST-SEI) study “Women in Science”.

Said DOST-SEI Director Josette Biyo, the country has made “great strides in empowering Filipinas in STEM.” However, she also believes that the country needs to improve access to education and employment opportunities for women in the field of S&T.


Since 1978, the Philippines has honored distinguished scientists through the Order of National Scientists. Since its inception, a select 43 Filipinos have been awarded the Order, 11 of which are women, and 8 in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.

First awarded to a woman in 1980, Fe del Mundo, M.D., M.A. was a National Scientist (NS) who founded the Children’s Medical Center of the Philippines, now named in her honor, as the first pediatric hospital. Like del Mundo, NS Perla Santos-Ocampo, M.D. was also a pioneer in pediatric medicine, who dedicated her career to improving child health and welfare.

While the Philippines is still labeled as an agricultural country, NS Carmen Velasquez, Ph.D. advocated for aquaculture, discovering a staggering 32 species and 1 genus of flatworms in fish, leading to a better understanding of parasitic effects on fish and public health. For her efforts in uncovering the effects of parasites on fish and public health, Velasquez became the second woman National Scientist, which was awarded to her in 1983.

Also a woman of firsts, NS Clare Baltazar, Ph.D. authored the first comprehensive review of Hymenoptera, or wasps, in the Philippines. Baltazar also discovered 8 previously unidentified genera of the Hymenoptera family. Her seminal work, “Philippine Insects,” was the first book on insect species in the Philippines. Meanwhile, others of Baltazar’s work paved the way for further studies on biological control in the country.

NS Luz Oliveros-Belardo, Ph.D. pioneered the extraction of essential oils in flora in the country, for medical and cosmetic use, and is primarily noted in pharmaceutical chemistry.

Meanwhile, NS Dolores Ramirez, Ph.D. created breakthroughs in the crop improvement of coconut and rice, which strengthened food security and agricultural sustainability.

NS Clara Lim-Syliangco, Ph.D., was also noted for her extensive work on biotechnology, authoring over 50 textbooks, some of which are still used today.


Recently, a woman was awarded the Order of National Scientists. Former University of the Philippines Manila chancellor and now NS Carmencita Padilla, M.D., also followed the footsteps of del Mundo and Santos-Ocampo, opting to focus on research in pediatrics.

Padilla’s work became the groundwork of Republic Act 9288 or the Newborn Screening Act of 2004.

The contribution of women, however, does not end with the conferred National Scientists’ work. Several other Academicians of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) are women and have been noted for their “exemplary contributions to science and technology.”

As of the writing, 23 women have been made Academicians by the NAST.

Although much should be done to advance the role of women in science and technology, there remains hope for the “Juana dela Cruzes” who want to become Filipino scientists.

In 2023, the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (DOST PCIEERD) launched its Women-Helping-Women: Innovating Social Enterprises (WHWise) Program Innovation Challenge, which aims to encourage women entrepreneurs to venture into the S&T field, through innovative solutions.

These women have ventured through the unknown. And like Elsa, they too, had their reservations. But through their perseverance, what was once unknown, is now known, shedding light to once mysteries that our world has.

They are the pioneers of their own right, writing their path, and placing their names not only as citations but as inspirations for the Juanas who aspire to become like them.